Thursday, August 3, 2017

Remembering Hurricane Celia

47 years ago today, Hurricane Celia made landfall in Corpus Christi and changed the lives of thousands forever. She packed a powerful punch, with the highest wind gusts recorded over 180 mph before the instruments measuring this broke. She left a trail of devastation that took months to restore.

This blog is a commemoration of that terrible storm, and with the help of many generous people, I have included personal accounts of what happened that day.

For my new readers, any blue text is a link to another page that will open in a new window. Clicking on any image will allow you to see a larger version.

The summer of 1970 started out pretty much like previous summers in the Corpus Christi area. Kids were out of school and making the most of their summer vacation from school. Teens could be found at the beach, enjoying sun and sand, and trying to keep cool in the tepid water of the Gulf. By August it was the usual hot and humid, with some keeping a wary eye on the same Gulf their kids were frolicking in. Two named storms had already come and gone, Hurricane Alma and Tropical Storm Becky, neither of which threatened the Texas coast. 

As July ended and August began, life in Corpus Christi was business as usual. Closer To You by The Carpenters began its second week as the number one single in the Top 40, having edged out Mama Told Me (Not To Come) by Three Dog Night. On the country charts, Charley Pride's Wonder Could I Live There Anymore occupied the top spot. Kelly's Heroes was likely still playing in local theaters, having been released on June 23rd. Average ticket prices for movies was $1.50, which even in 1970's dollars was still a good way to avoid the heat and humidity of South Texas. Those preferring to stay home could watch such shows as Adam-12, Bewitched or Hogan's Heroes in prime time. 

This idyllic summer in Corpus, though, was soon to gain infamy as the third named storm came roaring ashore a few days later on August 3rd to wreak havoc on a generally unprepared city. I was four years old then, not turning five for another month. Of all the blogs I've written, I've had to rely heavily on research and the recollections of many people to complete this one. Having embraced social media for several years now, I enlisted the help of a Facebook group I belong to called "We Grew Up in Corpus Christi." You'll hear from several of these people throughout the blog. My own memories of Hurricane Celia are those of a four-year-old and consist mainly of sounds

image from Google search


The storm developed, as some hurricanes do, from a tropical wave in the Caribbean west of the Cayman Islands on July 30th. Two days later, on August 1st, the depression was upgraded and named Tropical Storm Celia after entering the Gulf of Mexico. Given the warm Gulf waters, Celia rapidly intensified into a Category 3 hurricane. For my readers not familiar with hurricanes, think of warm water as "fuel" for hurricanes. The warmer the water is, the more "fuel" there is for the storm. With Celia entering a warm Gulf, one could imagine dumping a large can of gasoline on a small fire. Whoosh! Throughout this blog, you'll see me refer to these different storm "categories." I'm referring to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Bear in mind that this scale refers only to the potential for wind damage, and doesn't account for the other major cause of damage: storm surge

Celia's track was essentially to the west-northwest. Forecasters at the time kept expecting Celia to make a northerly turn to the right, but this never happened. Local weathermen, such as KIII's Charlie St. John and KZTV's Walter Furley did their best to keep the citizens abreast of a fluid situation. After an initial "flare up," Celia did lose some of her strength on August 2nd as she churned towards the Texas coast, dropping to a Category 2. The west coast and panhandle of Florida received storm surge and large swells from Celia, and minor coastal flooding in Louisiana added to the toll.



In 1970, there was no such thing as the internet, and storm tracking was done on a paper map. Typically local businesses or media would provide these at the start of hurricane season. My father had a set of colored pins he would use to plot the course of a storm. We kept this tracking map in the living room and would update it as the news updated a storm's course. As a child, not really knowing any better, I always thought it was fun when I got to stick the next pin into the map. I looked forward to hearing about "a storm" in the Gulf so I could grab a colorful pin and place it on the map. 


Example of a paper tracking map
image from Google search


I'm sure my parents, as did many in Corpus, tracked Celia's progress, even though she was expected to turn north and make landfall near Galveston. As an adult now, who happens to work in Galveston, I make it a point to check the NHC website first thing every morning during hurricane season. Even today, one can find paper tracking maps in local stores during hurricane season, or one can just download a printable copy from the internet.


Hurricane Celia's track
image from NWS website


People in Corpus were still expecting Celia to turn north towards Galveston, so minimal preparation was done. The National Weather Service (NWS) bulletins were still issuing a hurricane watch for the Corpus Christi area until the next morning. Corpus Christi wasn't issued an actual hurricane warning until the 5 am update on Monday morning. 


NWS advisory bulletin, 1 pm, August 2nd
image from NWS website


Before I continue, I'd like to make clear that this is NOT an indictment of the National Weather Service or even intended to be critical of them. I'm including these bulletins to show just how unpredictable hurricanes can be, especially given the technology at the time. Reading these now, and knowing the ultimate outcome of Hurricane Celia, one can see how important it is to be prepared during hurricane season. Just four hours after releasing the 1 pm bulletin, the NWS issued a 5 pm bulletin extending the hurricane warning to Rockport, north of Corpus Christi.


NWS advisory bulletin, 5 pm, August 2nd
image from NWS website


According to my mom, by Sunday afternoon, she and my father had discussed the possibility of leaving, and even started packing clothes for us "just in case." She went shopping to stock up on canned goods that didn't require heating in case the power went out. Yes, that included Spam! And I'm not talking about the electronic kind, either. She even bought some cake mix to bake a cake the next day. Cake? Oh, yes! You're the best, mom! Other than that, no one in our neighborhood took any other precautions. Why would they? Celia was going to turn northwards any minute now, right? We didn't even have to pick up anything from our back yard on Sunday. The 7 pm update still considered Corpus Christi to be in a hurricane watch status. We were truly in the "calm before the storm."



NWS advisory bulletin, 7 pm, August 2nd
image from NWS website

Barbara Dufner, one of the Facebook group members I referred to, remembers:

"The night before Celia was being expected to go in near Houston. My husband and I took a drive down to the T & L heads to have a peek at the tides. We saw some friends out doing the same thing. They joked saying they were out to see how long before the hurricane was going to hit. We slept in the next morning until we got a call from family saying we'd better start boarding up the windows. During the night the barometric pressure dropped and she was heading our way!"



Monday, August 3, 1970

As Monday morning dawned, the forecast looked much more grim for Corpus Christi. During the early morning hours of the 3rd, the National Weather Service issued two more bulletins at 3 am and 5 am. As late as the 3 am update, Corpus Christi was still under a hurricane watch. Residents to the northeast in Rockport and Aransas Pass were under a hurricane warning and were advised to be prepared for the coming storm.


NWS advisory bulletin, 3 am, August 3rd
image from NWS website


Two hours later, at 5 am, the next bulletin included Corpus Christi in the hurricane warning. As people started waking up and getting ready for work, I'm sure there were plenty of surprised faces upon reading the newspaper or watching the latest update on TV. Local radio stations were also giving updates and urging people to closely monitor the storm track.


NWS advisory bulletin, 5 am, August 3rd
image from NWS website



Monday mornings are bad enough, but to wake up to "Hurricane warnings are extended to include Corpus Christi and the area southward to Baffin Bay..." surely caused many to start taking a closer look at the storm track. Even early on Monday morning, though, not too many in Corpus were actually preparing for the storm that would arrive only a few hours later. The 7 am bulletin advised evacuation of Port Aransas and Mustang Island, and recommended evacuation of the low lying areas in Aransas Pass and Rockport. 


NWS advisory bulletin, 7 am, August 3rd
image from NWS website




Richard Morris, another of the Facebook group members, recalls:

"I don't think anyone in my family ever gave the impending hurricane a second thought the day before it hit, since it was expected to make landfall in Galveston until the very last minute. My dad took my sister to our church to put her on a bus to Christian Adventure Camp in Leakey early the morning of the third. I don't even think people at that point fully realized the gravity of what was about to take place. I remember helping my mother take clothes to the laundromat and helping my dad put tape on the windows a little later in the morning."

Reading this, I'm glad to see that at least some people didn't have to endure the storm, and got to have a little fun somewhere else. As the morning progressed, more and more people started to realize that Celia wasn't turning as expected. The 9 am advisory bulletin now indicated that Celia was definitely heading towards Corpus Christi. Around this time, my late father started to get concerned and had my older siblings start preparing the house and yard as best as we could. 

NWS advisory bulletin, 9 am, August 3rd
image from NWS website

My sister Victoria, who was 10 during Celia, wrote:

"I remember dad being in a bit of a panic because the hurricane was supposed to go further north, and didn’t turn as expected.  There was a whirlwind of activity as we started picking things up out of the yard, such as picnic tables, chairs etc.  Once that was finished, we went inside and waited for the storm to arrive."

Being a family with four kids, naturally, we had plenty to pick up out of the yard. My late brother Dennis was always building jumping ramps for his bike. Victoria mentioned that even I managed to help out, moving my tricycle into the garage and picking up light items. I distinctly remember mom baking a cake in the morning, which smelled wonderful. At the time, I believe frosting was prepared from a box mix, which she would do when the cake cooled enough to frost it. Unfortunately, the power went off before she was able to mix the frosting, so we had to eat our cake without the frosting. She also filled both bath tubs with water.

The more I researched Hurricane Celia, the more astounded I was at how many people were caught off guard by Celia's approach. In yet another example, Marian McKim shared this memory with me:

"I did not even know she was out there until my sister called at 9:30 AM. I took my 5 month old child and my two dogs to my parents house after leaving my trailer windows slightly open because of the pressure. My husband and I hauled the trash cans and patio furniture into the garage and shop and then, when my parents got home from the lake (I had sent the Highway Patrol in to warn those people - no other way to reach them), I went to the refinery with my husband who had not ever seen a hurricane."

By noon, those who hadn't already done so were busy doing whatever preparation they could with what was available. In our Calallen neighborhood (Broad Acres), very few had boarded up their windows. At this point, there just wasn't enough time to do that and everything else needed to prepare for what was looking like a catastrophe in the making. The noon update from the National Weather Service urged those immediately near the coast to evacuate and seek higher ground.



NWS advisory bulletin, noon, August 3rd
image from NWS website


Local media kept everyone as up to date as they could. It's hard to imagine in this day and age, with almost real time coverage of storms just how limited access to information was back in 1970. We basically had TV and radio. Below is a short audio clip generously furnished by Eddie Truesdell. At the time of Hurricane Celia, Mr. Truesdell worked for KSIX radio in Corpus Christi and gave this report to CBS News.





Data from the NWS website indicate that Celia again rapidly intensified back into a Category 3 hurricane shortly after this last update. Upon landfall, Celia was a "high end" Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 125 mph. As an interesting side note, I reached out to several meteorologists for some fact checking. Current meteorologist Bill Vessey of KIII sent me a link to an article that Josh Morgerman, another meteorologist wrote. His analysis of the storm data indicates that Celia should've been classified as a Category 4 hurricane at landfall. You can find his article here. Given all the damage, it doesn't surprise me at all. 


Hurricane Celia maximum winds
image from NWS website

There has always been much debate and speculation about whether or not tornadoes caused any of extensive damage seen in the area. The general impression, at least what I've found on the National Weather Service website, is that no evidence can be found for tornadic activity and that all the damage is from the high winds. I'll leave this up to the experts to decide. What I do know is that in our neighborhood some houses were completely demolished while others, like our, were left relatively intact.


NWS advisory bulletin, 2 pm, August 3rd
image from NWS website


By mid-afternoon, winds were starting to pick up all over the area, and the first rain bands began to come ashore. After clearing everything we could out of the yard, and storing it in the garage, we stayed inside and watched TV until we lost power. The winds were really howling at this point, and as the rain intensified, our parents moved all of us from the living room to an interior hallway for more protection. I do remember hearing that howling, screeching wind. I recall sticking my head around the corner and looking out one of the front windows, seeing nothing but a gray background with lots of stuff flying by the window. Mom caught me doing this and admonished me to "keep away from the windows!" I could feel the walls vibrating against my back as I sat there, listening to the wind. 

My eldest sister Melissa, 16 at the time of Celia, told me for the first part of the storm after the electricity went out she laid in the front seat of the car to hear the news on the radio. She's unclear if our parents made her come back in to keep from draining the car battery or if they just wanted her inside.


Hurricane Celia at landfall
image from NWS website


I was really too young to be scared of the storm, with one exception.  I remember hearing my siblings and parents talk about how "the eye was going to pass over the house." OK, y'all, remember I said I was just shy of five years old, right? When I heard that, my four-year-old brain immediately conjured an image of a large, scary eyeball that would soon float over our house.

Kinda, sorta like this...
image from Google search

I wasn't having any part of that and started crying. Once my parents calmed me down, and asked why I was so upset, they explained what they were talking about, and how it would get quiet for a few minutes. Well, OK, I guess that will be fine. But if I see that large eyeball out there....

As Celia was lashing Corpus Christi, the dramatic pressure changes caused our windows to implode. I definitely remember hearing those windows shatter, and looking back we were in the perfect place to keep from getting cut by flying glass. As I describe the walls as "vibrating," Victoria described them as "breathing in and out." My sister is by far not the only one to describe those phenomena, either. Several other people specifically mentioned the very same thing. 

Kenneth Anthony worked for KZTV at the time and had this to say:

"I was at the KZTV Newsroom in the basement of old Show Room Bldg on the bluff. A lot of us huddled around the ground-level door looking out. I wanted to get around to several places, get film DURING the storm, not just aftermath. I downgraded my ambitions to just sprinting next door to the Wilson Bldg to go up and shoot from KZTV rented space in upper floors. I didn't have sense to stay out of the elevator. It stopped during a momentary power interruption and just stayed between floors. I "power-cycled." Turned it off, waited 10 seconds, turned it on again and it ran again. Once I got out of it, I stayed out. Walls on upper floor in central hall (not directly against outside wall) were "breathing" in and out from air pressure."

Deborah Winters Seals saw his reply and added:

"Reminds me of the glass in my bedroom windows....breathing in and out! And all the windows were open at least 3" to relieve pressure....none of the windows broke, but my album collection got wet and were ruined...."

Around this time rain was being driven into the house under the doors and through the broken windows. My parents and siblings made a "canal" out of pillows and whatever was available to channel the water down the hallway and into the master bathroom. Inspiration struck mom, and she had dad remove the toilet so the water would have a place to drain. Great idea! With such strong winds, our roof was lifted a couple of inches from the frame but sat right back down without causing any major structural damage. We were fortunate, compared to others. 

A friend of mine and college classmate, Steve Fogle remembers this about his house: 

"I remember being in my bedroom with my mom, my dad was still at work. He called and told us to get in the bathroom – the most central room. About 10 mins after that, we heard a loud noise, the breaking of glass, etc. Once that all cleared we came out to see the roof of my bedroom (the room I was just in) collapsed with a huge tree from our neighbor’s yard half in my bedroom. I can’t even imagined what would have happened IF we were still in the room. The sliding glass door in the living room was broken – more tree parts in the living room. The house had a lot of water in it. We lived on Monette Drive, right off Airline and a couple of blocks from Ocean Drive."

Close calls seemed to be common, as Loretta Dilger related:

"The front picture window of our 900 SQFT house was shattered by a shingled overhang from the house directly across the street. It then catapulted over our house and flattened our back fence. The shattered glass covered my four-month-old sister sleeping in her crib across the living room. Not a scratch on her and she slept through the rest of the afternoon. Thank goodness!"

Yes, thank goodness, indeed! Can you even imagine trying to get medical help in the middle of a major hurricane? Back when I was in EMS, I never had to pull a shift during a major storm. I did have to work in some pretty cold and icy conditions when pulling shifts up in Colorado. You can read about some of my adventures in a previous blog I wrote on the subject here

Let's not forget about the fire, EMS and police officers who didn't have the luxury of hunkering down with their families during the storm. Our devoted public servants maintained a vigil throughout the storm, helping when and where they could. Ron Edgington was a Corpus Christi Police Officer when Celia came barging into the city. He gives a very descriptive narrative of his duty time during the storm:

"After several days of speculation we now knew Celia was going to be close or hit us pretty hard and we at the Police Department were making preparations like the rest of the city. Law Enforcement and Civil Defense and First Responders have to be maintained at all costs and under all conditions to protect the citizens. Celia was a small but very dangerous Hurricane that at one time had top winds of 186 to 190 M.P.H.. Multiple times people were asked to evacuate and go to a safe place but most just ignore the warnings. As Celia got closer to us it as becoming harder and harder for the police to complete calls and response to calls for assistance. There was even one call where two fishermen were fishing on the rocks in front of the old coliseum and got washed and blows off into the water and could not be found for a while. They were able to make it to safety with the help of a couple of brave Firemen. With the eye now only about 50 miles or so away we began getting hundreds and hundreds of calls for assistance to evacuate. I will never forget the screams and panic of callers who were in serious jeopardy now wanting to evacuate. Try as they may officers could not get to them for debris, down trees, downed electrical lines, and the like, not to mention the wind and blinding rain. Just before the eye came across our Flour Bluff 2-man Unit 131 yelled on the radio they were being picked up by a tornado and were off the ground. The radio went dead and we heard nothing else. With everyone in panic mode because we didn’t know where they were, if they were alive or dead, and there was nothing but silence on their radio. Every 2 to 3 minutes for the next eleven (11) hours I attempted to call them without response.


The eye came across the north side of Corpus and the old Police Building at Buffalo and the freeway where I was working as the Dispatcher including Portland at 2:10 P.M. which is when we had the highest winds. It is still so distinct in my mind because the Chief Of Police had instructed me to broadcast an "alert" for all Police Units to "shelter in place" until winds subsided.. Here's the funny part. I had been working the radio for 16 hours and my Commander came in and made me take a break. I went out the back door of the building protected by a large brick and concrete wall just in time to see our Police Radio Antenna come down across several vehicles. It crushed the Chief's Car, the Assistant Chief's Car, but missed the back bumper on my brand new 1970 Chevrolet Pick Up by about 12 inches (thank you, Lord, for small favors). It was at this point I saw the back side of the eye wall of the hurricane coming toward the Police Building. It was almost black in color and the debris was moving sideways at whatever the wind speed was. Inside the eye sounded like an echo chamber and there were thousands of birds trapped in it. The back side of the eye hit with the wind going from dead calm to probably 180 M.P.H. in the twinkling of an eye. Returning to my post as our worry was now turning to grief about our lost unit I went back to the dispatcher position and it had been almost 12 hours since we lost them when the single outside line in my office rang and “guess who”?. The voice on the other end said Unit 131 and we are both O.K. I haven’t seen that much elation since the last time The Cowboys won the Superbowl. A small F-1 funnel picked them up, dropped them in the middle of the Oso, and they were able to wade to Flour Bluff where they found one working pay phone at a store. Some may recall several years ago when there was an exceptionally low tide in the oso someone spotted a car sitting out in the water. Guess who” Yep-our Police Car. There was a photo and article in the caller times when it was found."

This man had a wife and two-year-old at the house and yet there he was, standing watch and holding the thin blue line. 

Linda McRae Simpson writes of her harrowing experience:

"I registered for school that morning at King High School! No big deal! Shows that no one was expecting this kind of storm. My dad was at work and my mom held down the fort. She was on the phone with him around 4:00 pm and the conversation indicated that things were going to hell fast. Then the phone quit working. The next 3 or 4 hours were my worst nightmare. Our Pharaoh Valley home was ripped to pieces, with us in it. Dad started driving home as soon as he could, driving thru yards, to get to us. After hours of driving, he arrived to our half of a 2 story house. He didn't use the door, just walked through what used to be the dining room wall. We were all so relieved to see each other, we had all survived. I still had my dress on from earlier school registration, it was ruined. What had been our 2 year old house was rebuilt."

Johnny Marks was the Manager/Program Director for KZFM when Celia struck. He shared this:

"I recall going to the 600 Bldg. around 10AM and the sky over the bay was Green. Having been through Carla and Beulah, I knew this one was unusual. I checked the station, told the jock on the air to leave and get out ASAP should the reports indicate a hit. I left and headed downtown. Bad move! The weather got worse so I aimed for my friend Eben Wood's high rise condo, the old Princess Louise Hotel. We weathered the hurricane from a Great vantage point. I called the station and told everyone to leave. Then, as the bay started to empty and boats left at their moorings just hung there, we witnessed a taxi going end over end after the eye had passed and we started receiving the 2nd side of Celia! Crawling down the hall to a stairwell, Eben and I had to be careful as broken windows shot shards of glass into the hallway and sticking like swords. We made it to the lobby, and recall passing a bottle of Jack with a uniformed cop! We all figured "this is it!" It was a frightening experience!"

Thankfully, many who experienced Celia's effects perceived it as more of an "adventure." Let's see what Richard J. Berry had to say about it:

"I was 10 in 1970. I remember being fascinated by the storm. We lived on Poenisch Street near Alameda. Despite my mother's warnings I spent the first part of the storm perched next to the windows in my brother's bedroom watching. The heavy rain flooded the street. I remember watching the high water line get closer and closer to our front porch. It never made it all the way up to the house. The winds were amazing. At the height of the storm before the eye passed over I watched a very large tree, that had been uprooted from the yard of a home closer to Alameda, literally blow down the street! One of the homes across the street from ours had a gravel surfaced area in their roof. The house next to that had narrow windows just below the roof line. The gravel blew off the one roof and broke out the windows in the adjacent house. During the eye of the storm some of us went outside. It was so eerie. Dead calm, sea gulls flying around in circles, and the completely flooded street. One end of Poenisch is offset from the other. Looking down the street in the eerie calm I could see that one of the strong Celia microbursts had ripped the roof and walls off of the second story. It looked like a doll house with the roof off. We could see much of the furniture still sitting in place. Our neighbors in the home across the street where the high windows had been knocked out waded across the street during the eye and spent the rest of the storm with us in our home. We had a Coleman stove and lanterns. When the eye had passed and the storm raged again I remember sitting with everyone in our kitchen playing cards by lantern light and eating bagels and lox until the storm passed."

Of my few memories during the storm, I do remember hearing our garage door being torn off of its mounting. I believe this was after the eye had passed and the back side of the storm was raging. My sister Victoria agrees with this and remembers the same thing. For the record, I didn't go outside during the eye. Mom kept me safely inside while the eye passed. My older siblings, though, went outside and helped dad nail our closet doors over the broken windows to keep at least a little rain out. 

Victoria: Outside was so dark and oddly quiet. Dad was telling us there was only a short time before the wind would start blowing from the other direction. There was already devastation all around us, homes with missing roofs and trees down.

And we still had the second half to go, ladies and gentlemen!  My late brother Dennis kept a running commentary on a tape recorder during the storm. Mom said that he kept this tape for a while after Celia, but then recorded something else over it. Had she known at the time, she would've given him a blank tape to use and kept the storm commentary. I would've loved to hear what he had to say. Both of my sisters said he kept a calm, measured tone while describing the events, even when a mobile home across the street behind us started rolling over and over. My sister Melissa had her boyfriend's senior ring on a chain around her neck. According to her, mom seemed to ask with some frequency if she still had her the ring around her neck. "It felt like every ten minutes, but I don't think that was the case."

I'm sure it felt like an eternity before the winds began to noticeably subside. Most likely I was already asleep, while my parents and siblings stayed up for the duration. Even after the winds abated, we had no electricity and wouldn't have for another couple of weeks.



Aftermath

As Tuesday morning dawned, people began to awake from whatever sleep they managed to get. The true amount of devastation could now be easily seen, and there was widespread devastation throughout the entire area. It was still August in South Texas, and without electricity, there was no air conditioning, ice, or cooking unless one had a gas stove. Even then, chances were that the gas service was also cut off. Those who managed to store water in jugs or bath tubs had something to drink at least for a limited time. 

Many in Corpus Christi would go weeks without electricity or running water. Ice was a commodity and hard to find at times. Mosquitos, always a problem it seems, added to everyone's discomfort. 

Victoria: The next day was so surreal. There were chicken feathers embedded in the living room wall.  There were mangled up unidentifiable objects everywhere. We even found some oil rig records scattered about. It looked like a bomb had gone off. We drove around the neighborhood to see so much devastation. Homes completely destroyed. Water everywhere. The smell reminded me of the beach. 

One of mom's favorite stories to tell about Celia was my reaction the next day. Throughout the storm, I was generally calm (Except for that eye thing!) and wasn't too scared. When we went outside to assess the damage, I noticed the flower beds where I had helped mom plant some flowers a few weeks before were completely stripped bare. I broke down and cried over the loss of those flowers. 

Our house in Broad Acres
scanned from original print

All of our windows were broken, the insulation in the attic and walls were soaking wet and the wallboard was wet along the bottom. Other than that, though, the house was remarkably intact. Our next door neighbors immediately to our south fared just as well. Our houses and a few others were just a few in the neighborhood that didn't suffer catastrophic damage. Our neighbor's house across the street to our southwest was demolished.


Neighbor's house across the street
scanned from original print




Another neighbor's house
scanned from original print




Even more devastation
scanned from original print

At the entrance to our neighborhood sat a family-owned convenience store. Fischer's Market was a favorite place to buy a soft drink and candy bar. We usually found enough empty bottles between the house and Fischer's to pay for at least another drink. For my younger readers, what I'm referring to is collecting glass bottles. Yes, glass! We could turn these in for a few cents each. Fischer's Market looked like a bomb hit it, and sadly there were people looting items from the pavement.

Fischer's Market
scanned from original print


They did rebuild, though with a newer and nicer store, and stayed in business for several more years after that until they retired and sold their business. Even the larger grocery stores didn't fare much better. 



H.E.B. Grocery
image from NWS website



Burger Chef restaurant
image from NWS website


Hurricane Celia was unique in that almost all of the damage was from the wind, with minimal damage coming from storm surge. Remember me making a point about that earlier? Yep, there was a reason for it. There was such extreme damage that then-President Nixon declared seven counties as disaster areas. The Texas Governor at the time, Preston Smith, mobilized the National Guard to the area to patrol for looters and assist in recovery. A curfew was established for a while to help curb crime. 

A few days after the storm, our Uncle Buddy and Aunt Lucy arrived to help out. Victoria and I went with them back to Houston for a couple of weeks until the house was reasonably repaired and electricity restored. We even got new beds from this, as all of ours were full of broken glass. Uncle Jimmy had an interior decorating business in Houston and did fantastic work, giving us new wallpaper and paint.

In the spirit of friendship and teamwork, families with gas stoves and barbecue grills offered to cook for their neighbors who had electric stoves. People shared what they had and helped their neighbors clean and repair their homes. Residents of South Texas have dealt with hurricanes before Celia, and after Celia, and will do so again when the need arises. We all come together and help each other out, doing what it takes to make our communities whole again. 

Hurricane Celia caused 15 fatalities in Texas along with approximately 930 million dollars in damage. An estimated 90% of all buildings in downtown Corpus were damaged or destroyed. The severity of damage and loss of life prompted the World Meteorological Organization to retire the name Celia the following year for Atlantic hurricanes. Interestingly, the name Celia is still used for Pacific hurricanes and was used as recently as 2016.

I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to all of my family and friends, as well as the many people in my "We Grew Up in Corpus Christi" Facebook group that were so generous with their memories and time. Without all of you, I couldn't have written nearly as good a blog as I intended. I only hope my words did your memories justice. 

As I give this blog a final review before posting it, it's early morning. This time 47 years ago most in Corpus Christi were still asleep, or just waking up and getting ready for work. This time 47 years ago, Corpus Christi was still under a hurricane watch. Things would be very much different in just a few hours.

True to form, before I even opened this blog to give it my final touch, I checked the NHC website. There's something brewing off the coast of Africa, and that dreaded orange color, meaning "medium probability of development" is already present. I can only hope this dissipates or moves in a different direction. No, I wish no harm on anyone else, I just don't want another storm near me. It's still wayyyyy out in the Atlantic, and could go anywhere, or just dissipate. Who knows at this point? I'm still gonna keep a close eye on it, though. 


I've got my eye on you!
image from NHC website



We are approaching the height of hurricane season, so it's no surprise that we have something we need to monitor. As a reminder folks, for those of us who live near the coast, please consider that a 1/4 tank of gas should be considered "empty." I try to keep at least a 1/4 tank of gas in my car, and will not allow it to drop below before refilling. Do you have some canned goods or other non-perishables ready to go? I hope so. I'm not trying to be a fear monger. I am trying to stay prepared, though. That's just what we do here.

Consider this as "empty."
image from Google search


Did anyone experience another hurricane like Celia? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. I bet many of y'all have interesting stories about Katrina, Rita or Ike. What about sitting through a tornado or other weather event? Please tell. 

Coming up next, I plan to interview Chef Ryan Klen like I did with Chef Kevin Templet. Be sure to check out that blog, and feel free to read my others. There's bound to be something that will catch your interest.


Until next time......


carpe cerevisi